By Dan Walters
Romans 2:7-16, especially verse 14, has been used by James Bales and other brethren to prove that alien sinners are not under law to Christ and are thus exempt from the marriage law contained in the Gospel. This verse says that “when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.” Other brethren have taken this further and are teaching that these “Gentiles,” alien sinners who have not heard the Gospel, will be judged by this “law unto themselves” and will then be saved, if obedient to this law, without the Gospel.
It is noted that Paul speaks, in the present tense, and so if is assumed that what is said here of Jews and Gentiles still applies in the Gospel age. But remember that Paul here speaks of both Jews and Gentiles in a parallel sense. He writes in verse 12: “For as many as have sinned without law shall be judged by the law.” If it is true that Gentiles may be saved by obedience to their unwritten law, then it is also true that Jews may be saved by obedience to the law of Moses. “For there is no respect of persons with God” (v. 11). This argument proves too much; it proves that the law of Moses is still in effect for Jews and that they may be saved under its provisions if they have not heard the Gospel. Since Paul speaks of Jews who were responsible to the law, he has to be speaking of those who lived under that law before it was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). The same is true for the Gentiles; he speaks of those who lived before the Gospel came into effect.
Men are taking Paul’s argument and reversing it. Paul was establishing the fact that both Jews and Gentiles were in an equally lost condition and were equally in need of the gospel of Christ. The modern reasoning is that both can be saved without it. There is a difference between the way God judges people today and the way he judged them before the cross. This is seen in Paul’s words to the men of Athens: “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent (Acts 17:30).
Is forgiveness of sins promised today to those who obey the moral law, but have not heard the Gospel? If so, where in the Scriptures is this clearly taught? Cornelius was a Gentile and a good moral man (Acts 10:1,2). If Peter had never gone to him with the Gospel, would he have been saved anyway due to his obedience to the unwritten law? The angel told Cornelius that Peter would “tell these words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved” (Acts If: 14). Some brethren have said that the ignorant are already in a saved condition, and that the reason we should preach the Gospel to them is the same reason we cultivate a crop of corn, to make it a better crop. But if Peter’s words would save Cornelius, this clearly implies that Cornelius was lost before he heard the words. If Cornelius, as upright a man as he was, was lost, does this leave us much room to hope for the salvation of those today who have never heard the Gospel?
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 19, pp. 580, 594
October 5, 1989